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Crash

September 23, 2015

CraLike Altman’s classic Short Cuts, and Anderson’s Magnolia, Crash, by writer/director Paul Haggis weaves a tale of multiple characters through the web of streets we have come to know as Los Angeles. Unlike those other two films this one has a very specific theme to explore. From the opening line uttered by Don Cheadle we know this is to be a film about how people relate, and from the interchange that follows between Jennifer Esposito and Alexis Rhee (pretty sure she plays the Korean female driver who rear-ended her) how people relate tends to be ruled by first impressions or prejudice.

Race is paramount in this film, and all our preconceptions of who people are get twisted and turned through the intricate plot. With each new additional character we find another assumption, another stereotype, and then watch as that preconception is obliterated as the character develops. It is a credit to the deftly written script, tight direction and exceptional acting talent that every one of these many characters is fully realized on screen without ever feeling one-dimensional.

Themes: stereotypes and ignorance, racism, justice.

[first lines] Graham: It’s the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.

 Riick: Fuck! Why do these guys have to be black? I mean, why? No matter how we spin this thing, I’m either gonna lose the black vote or I’m gonna lose the law and order vote!
Karen: You know, I think you’re worrying too much. You have a lot of support in the black community.
Rick: All right. If we can’t duck this thing, we’re gonna have to neutralize it. What we need is a picture of me pinning a medal on a black man. Bruce? The firefighter – the one that saved the camp or something – Northridge… what’s his name?
Bruce: He’s Iraqi.
Rick: He’s Iraqi? Well, he looks black.
Bruce: He’s dark-skinned, sir, but he’s Iraqi, his name’s Saddam Hassif.
Rick: Saddam? His name’s Saddam? Oh, that’s real good, Bruce. Yeah, I’m gonna pin a medal on an Iraqi named Saddam. Give yourself a raise, will you?

Anthony: You wanna get killed, nigger?
Cameron: [punches him] Say that again, man. Call me nigger again.
Anthony: You stupid motherfucker.

 

Anthony: Listen to it man. Nigga this, Nigga that. You think white go around callin’ each other “honky” all day, man? “Hey, honky, how’s business?” “Going great, cracker, we’re diversifying!”

 

 

Anthony: Look around! You couldn’t find a whiter, safer or better lit part of this city. But this white woman sees two black guys, who look like UCLA students, strolling down the sidewalk and her reaction is blind fear. I mean, look at us! Are we dressed like gang-bangers? Huh? No. Do we look threatening? No. Fact, if anybody should be scared around here, it’s us: We’re the only two black faces surrounded by a sea of over-caffeinated white people, patrolled by the triggerhappy LAPD. So you tell me, why aren’t we scared?
Peter: Because we have guns?
Anthony: You could be right.

 

Flanagan: Fucking black people, huh?
Graham: What did you just say?
Flanagan: I mean, I know all the sociological reasons why, per capita eight times more black men are incarcerated than white men… Schools are a disgrace, lack of opportunity, bias in the judicial system, all that stuff… But still… but still, it’s… it’s gotta get to you, I mean, on a gut level, as a black man. They just can’t keep their hands out of the cookie jar.

Flanagan: Actually, we were thinking of you until we saw that. It’s your brothers file. Twenty something years old and already three felonys. Three Strikes Law, the kid’s going away for life for stealing a car. Christ, that’s a shitty law. There’s a warrant in there. But still, he had every opportunity you had. Fucking black people, huh?
Graham: So, uh… all I need to do to make this disappear is to frame a potentially innocent man.
Flanagan: What are you? The fucking Defender of All Things White? We’re talking about a white that shot three black men and you’re arguing with me, that maybe we’re not being “fair” to him? You know, what? Maybe you’re right. Maybe you’re right. Maybe Lewis did provoke this. Maybe he got exactly what was coming to him. Or, maybe, stoned or not, being a black man in the valley was enough to get him killed. There was no one there to see who shot first, so there is no way way to know. Which means, we could get this wrong. Maybe that’s what happened with your brother. Maybe we got it wrong. Maybe Lewis isn’t the only one who deserves the benefit of the doubt. You’re the one closest to all this. You need to tell us. What does your gut tell you?

 

The all-encompassing theme of the film is racism, and it is dealt with bluntly, honestly, and without reservation. Every single character participates in the perpetuation of the ugly cycle but also suffers because of it. Where racism makes for an interesting enough subject for an already provoking and fairly experimental film, it’s only the catalyst for a deeper, resounding story of redemption and the universality of our lonely situation which the movie becomes during its second hour (what you could call Act II). It switches from a somewhat depressing contemplative amalgamation of moments about racism in everyday life and how destructive it is, to a throbbing, intense web of choices and consequences — life and death, vivifying or soul killing — and the chance at redemption.

Following their actions in Act I, everyone meets a fork in the road or is given a second chance of some sort. Some take it, some don’t, but regardless, by the end of the movie everyone has changed.

Think “Six Degrees of Separation”.

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